London(AFP): Having seen longtime rival Rafael Nadal tighten his iron-grip on Roland Garros, Roger Federer aims to extend his personal dominance of Wimbledon by claiming a ninth title at the All England Club.
Despite his 37th birthday fast approaching, and having been stunned by Borna Coric in the Halle grasscourt final last weekend, Federer will still start Wimbledon as the overwhelming favourite to clinch a 21st major.
Federer set new records 12 months ago when he defeated a hobbling Marin Cilic in the final, becoming both the tournament’s oldest champion and first to claim eight titles.
That victory came after he decided to skip the entire claycourt season, a strategy he repeated this year as the Swiss sit at home watching Nadal romp to an 11th French Open.
“I’m really going to love going to Wimbledon but being the defending champion always creates pressure,” said Federer, who was quick to shrug off his loss to Coric which ended a 20-match win streak on grass.
A week earlier, he had been buoyed by capturing the grass court title at Stuttgart.
“Regardless of whether I won or lost in Halle I will be one of the favourites at Wimbledon.”
Federer won his first Wimbledon — and maiden Slam title — in 2003.
Since that time he has added seven more at the All England Club with Nadal winning twice, Novak Djokovic three times and Andy Murray
taking two titles.
Lleyton Hewitt, back in 2002, was the last man outside the modern-day ‘Big Four’ to win the championship.
Hardly surprising then that Federer cannot see any great upheaval anytime soon, even tipping Nadal — and his notoriously unreliable knees on a grass court — to go deep in the tournament.
“I think Rafa is one of the big favourites,” said Federer who famously lost the 2008 final to the Spaniard in what is widely regarded as one of the finest Slam showdown of all time.
– ‘Rafa looking good’ –
“When Rafa is healthy, anything is possible for him.” Nadal’s Grand Slam count now stands at 17, just three behind Federer with whom he has split the last six majors.
The world number one has endured a bittersweet relationship with Wimbledon despite being champion in 2008 and 2010.
He missed the 2009 tournament with injury and since finishing runner-up to Djokovic in 2011, has gone out in the second round in 2012, first round in 2013 and last 16 in 2014.
In 2015, he was beaten in the second round, missed 2016 while, 12 months ago, lost 15-13 in the fifth set to Luxembourg journeyman Gilles Muller in the fourth round.
After winning Roland Garros this month, Nadal hinted he may skip Wimbledon and also sat out Queen’s.
But the 32-year-old Spaniard has been practicing on grass in Mallorca and is cautiously optimistic.
“I had to spend time adapting physically and in my tennis to the surface,” said Nadal.
“I will certainly arrive at Wimbledon with less preparation, but I’m going with confidence high because I played very well through the whole claycourt season.”
Djokovic, the 2011, 2014 and 2015 champion, retired with an elbow injury in the quarter-finals in 2017 as his form continued to sink after the emotional high of completing the career Grand Slam at Roland Garros 12 months earlier.
Like Nadal, Djokovic had hinted he may sit out Wimbledon after the indignity of losing to world number 72 Marco Cecchinato in the French Open quarter-finals.
But the rejuvenated 12-time major winner shook off the self-doubt and made the Queen’s final at the weekend, losing to Cilic despite having had a match point.
Djokovic is at least back in the top 20 unlike 2013 and 2016 Wimbledon champion Murray who is ranked at 156.
Former number one Murray suffered a hip injury in a five-set loss to Sam Querrey in the quarter-finals in 2017 and underwent surgery in January.
The 31-year-old only returned at Queen’s losing a tough three-setter to Nick Kyrgios in his opener.
Yesterday, however, he eased past fellow injury-plagued Slam winner Stan Wawrinka in straight sets in Eastbourne.
Elsewhere, a lot will be expected of world number three Alexander Zverev who made the fourth round last year.
However, the 21-year-old lost his only grass court match this summer to Coric in Halle.